MASON CITY, Iowa - Food insecurity is an ongoing problem across the nation, and right here at home.According to the USDA, although 89.5% of households in the U.S. were food secure last year, there's still that 10.5% gap, about 37 million Americans (including 11 million children), that were food insecure in 2019, meaning these households weren't able to meet the needs of their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food.
The state of Iowa is looking to change this with the Governor's Taskforce on Feeding Iowans. To accomplish the goal of making sure food is more accessible, ISU Extension and Americorps are partnering to 'glean', by collecting produce from farms, farmers markets, restaurants and institutions, and distributing it through agencies such as food pantries. Cerro Gordo County was selected as one of 8 sites across the state for the initiative.
Gleaning coordinator Corinne Sills says the need can be found not just in urban areas, but in rural areas as well.
"Even in our smaller, outlying cities in Cerro Gordo County. You've got Thornton, Rockwell, Sheffield, places that people aren't coming up to Mason City or Clear Lake to go to farmers markets, or the community kitchen and shelters like that."
In addition, collecting the food and distributing it to those in need would also help cut down on food waste. According to the USDA, nearly 40% of the U.S. food supply, about $161 billion worth, is wasted each year. For an average household, that's about $1,600 per family, or 219 lbs. per person.
"There's tons and tons of food that gets thrown away at the end of the season, end of the day. Whether it's a grocery store or a restaurant, a lot of things get thrown away."
Sills has had some volunteers from the iJAG program at Mason City High School, as well as her Dad, to deliver produce from the farmers market and deliver it to the shelters in town. She's also looking to do a monthly produce drive with students at the high and junior high schools through the winter months.
"I've contacted a lot of area farmers, and there's a lot of people that have their own garden spaces. I've talked to some of the city administrators of some of the smaller towns around, got some flyers up and trying to focus on making some of those connections."
So far, Sills has collected roughly 25-30 lbs. worth of produce, including potatoes and tomatoes, to give to Northern Lights Alliance for the Homeless shelters in Mason City and the Community Kitchen of North Iowa.
If you want to contribute, contact Sills at 641-425-9333.